Ever since Steve Kerr took over as head coach of the Golden State Warriors and started running out a five-man crew that was affectionately dubbed the “death lineup,” the team’s closing lineup has been a discussion point.
Kerr has historically opted for different (read: smaller) lineups for closing games than for starting them, and that trend will likely continue into the 2022 NBA Playoffs.
But with whom? The Dubs have a lot of options for closing games, and Kerr will have his hands full trying to pick the right combinations.
The way I see it, and assuming full health, only two players are guaranteed to be on the court in the closing minutes of a close game: Steph Curry and Draymond Green. I probably don’t need to explain why, so let’s jump straight into the cases for some other players, in no order at all.
Other than Curry and Green, Klay is the closest thing to a lock. I’m sure there are plenty of people who will claim that he shouldn’t be in the closing lineup, but he almost surely will.
For starters, the Warriors are lacking in continuity and rhythm due to the sheer number of injuries they’ve sustained this season. One of the challenges in the playoffs will be overcoming that before getting eliminated.
Curry, Green, and Thompson may have only played 11 minutes together since 2019, but they’ve shared the court so many times over the last decade-plus that their chemistry isn’t going anywhere. Sure, it would’ve been nice if they got more time together this season, but Curry and Green still have better chemistry with Thompson than with anyone else on the roster.
Kerr is already trusting Klay with big defensive assignments (and being rewarded for it), and even though Thompson’s efficiency has been way down, the offense is functioning well with him on the court due to the spacing and gravity that he provides.
I contemplated listing Klay as a lock, but I’m not entirely positive that he’ll be on the court at the end of a game if he’s played poorly in the game up to that point. Curry and Green, however, will be on the court regardless of how they’re playing.
Two months ago, it would have been absolutely ridiculous to suggest that Wiggins might not be in a closing lineup.
But you all know what has happened in the last two months. Wiggins has averaged just 14.6 points per game, shot 41.0% from the field, 31.9% from the three-point line, and 55.0% from the free throw line, scored 20 or more points just three times in 22 games, and seen his defense take a huge step backwards.
If you were to make a list of the Warriors best players right now, when healthy, he would certainly be behind Curry, Green, Jordan Poole and Kevon Looney, and probably behind Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr., and Gary Payton II. Maybe Jonathan Kuminga, too.
He still has a very good chance of being in the closing lineup. He’s a quality defender who can switch onto multiple positions, and the Warriors still trust him to knock down open shots. He’s been a starter all year, and was an All-Star ... it’s hard to see the Warriors benching him.
Poole is forcing a lot of tough questions with his current play, which features a 15-game streak of scoring 20 or more points, during which time he’s averaging 26.3 points and 5.1 assists per game, while shooting 49.8% from the field, 45.5% from the three-point line, and 89.7% from the charity stripe.
He’s always been penciled in as a bench piece on a healthy Warriors team, but there’s no way around the fact that he’s simply playing much better basketball than Thompson or Wiggins right now. And for a team that is still a lot better on defense than on offense, it’s hard to justify not having your second-best offensive player on the court in crunch time.
But adding Poole to the closing lineup isn’t the easiest thing. It gives the team a rough defensive backcourt and forces Thompson or Wiggins — or both — to play up a position on defense.
It’s not an easy fit, but I don’t know how you’re supposed to omit him.
Looney is the starting center which, historically, means he’ll be plastered to the bench in the final minutes of games. But he’s having the best year of his career, and as a result is getting some late-game playing time.
I’m guessing he’ll be a matchup-dependent addition — we could see him closing a few games depending on who the Dubs are playing, and what’s happening in that game. But he probably won’t be a staple of final buzzer lineups the way he’s been a staple of tip-off lineups.
In his first stint with the Warriors, Iguodala was almost always on the court when the game was on the line. And it’s not too wild to think that could be the case now that he’s returned from the injury that cost him the middle of the season.
Iguodala possesses the two things that Kerr prioritizes most with his closing lineups: a smart basketball brain, and quality, switchable defense.
The Dubs lose some spacing when Iguodala and Green share the court, but they can work around that with Curry, Thompson, and either Poole or Wiggins. Iguodala provides a veteran playmaking presence who rarely does bad things on the court, and who can defend nearly any position. He also is more comfortable with Curry, Green, and Thompson than anyone else on the team.
There’s no doubt Kerr badly wants Iguodala on the court in crunch time ... it’s just a matter of if he can logistically find a way to do it.
Otto Porter Jr.
On paper, Porter ticks every box for a closing lineup. Like Iguodala, he’s a smart player who rarely makes costly mistakes, and is a long, rangy, switchable defender.
Unlike Iguodala, Porter is a quality three-point shooter, and the team’s second-best rebounder.
But also unlike Iguodala, he hasn’t yet earned the full trust of Steve Kerr, doesn’t have the same chemistry with the core three, and isn’t a brilliant playmaker.
So in all likelihood, Porter will be in a similar situation to Looney: he’ll get a little crunch time playing time in certain games and matchups, but won’t be a common choice.
In summation, get ready for a closing lineup of Gary Payton II, Moses Moody, Damion Lee, Jonathan Kuminga, and Nemanja Bjelica.
But more seriously, if I had to guess, I’d say the most commonly-used lineup will be Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins, and Green, but with Iguodala getting a fair amount of playing time in place of Poole or Wiggins.